Back in April, I blogged about an article in the Washington Post describing the lack of statues of women in the US Capitol and throughout the country. The article stated that “Allegorical or mythical female statues…abound in Washington,” and I concurred that this phenomenon is true at the Capitol, where female figures in art represent ideas like peace, freedom, and victory.
I recently visited the American Red Cross National Headquarters and took a guided tour of the building. Though I’d known all about Clara Barton (in fact, she’d been a Heroes on Stamps choice in my National Postal Museum programming), I hadn’t realized that the Red Cross building was built as “a memorial…to the women of the north and the women of the south.” This landmark, constructed between 1915 and 1917, is full of artistic renderings of female figures that fall in different places on the continuum between the specific individual and the general idea. Some of the women in art here are virtues, others are generic working women, and some are historical figures who formed and shaped the American Red Cross.
The female figures in the famed Tiffany windows symbolize ideals: Mercy, Hope, Faith, Charity, Truth, and Fortitude. Meanwhile, paintings of American Red Cross founder Clara Barton and leader Mabel T. Boardman graced the walls of a meeting room. Other art throughout the building shows women working as nurses or standing in support of the Red Cross cause: not specific individuals, but not virtues, either.
Having now taken this tour, I would include the American Red Cross National Headquarters on a list of area museums relating to women’s history and art, along with the Mary McLeod Bethune House, Sewall-Belmont House, Hillwood, National Museum of Women in the Arts, General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Hard Bargain Farm, the Rachel Carson House, and of course, the Clara Barton National Historic Site.